By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
What took East Mississippi Community College a whole season to build, Copiah-Lincoln's Joe Craig Junior destroyed in only 12 seconds. Down 46-41 with 21.6 seconds on the clock, following what appeared to be a game-winning drive for EMCC, Craig took a kickoff and ran 90 yards to the end zone at Sullivan-Windham Field to give the Wolfpack a 47-46 lead and send the Lions home for a long offseason.
“I told Darius Guy to let me get it,” Craig Jr. said. “They blocked good and gave me an ally on the sidelines, and I just took off. As soon as I saw the hole, I knew it was a touchdown, because the only guy down field was the kicker, and I knew he wasn't going to catch me.”
The kickoff was supposed to be a squib kick, but instead of bouncing around on the turf, it went directly to the deadly returner.
Last week, special teams haunted the Lions in their 24-23 loss to Itawamba. This week, it was no different, as the special teams unit accounted for a missed field-goal, a blocked extra-point and a fumbled snap to go along with the kick return.
“We should have just kicked it deep to him, maybe it wouldn't have been as easy,” EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens said. “It was a squib kick that never bounced. We haven't had a kick run back on us all season, and it was just unfortunate.”
The Lions, who won their second state championship and first national championship a year ago, led the Wolfpack 40-28 with 8:45 left in the fourth quarter, following a touchdown from Rodriguez Moore. However, Co-Lin answered back on a 10-play drive, ending on a touchdown pass from Chandler Rogers to Christian Keene to make the score 40-35.
After forcing the Lions to a three-and-out on the ensuing drive, Co-Lin was dealt a break, as EMCC fumbled the punt to give the Wolfpack the ball at the EMCC 22-yard line.
The next play, Wolfpack running back Darius Guy made the Lions pay, running straight through the EMCC defense to put Co-Lin up 41-40 after a failed two-point conversion.
Lion quarterback Quez Johnson would rally EMCC back, however, marching the Lions 75 yards on 10 plays including a 10-yard touchdown run to put the Lions up 46-41 with 21.6 seconds left.
Johnson finished the night 39-of-55 for 412 yards and two touchdowns. After the ensuing kickoff return for a touchdown, the Lions would get the ball back with three seconds and a chance to score. However, a last minute Hail Marry pass was swatted down by a Co-Lin defender to end the game.
“It's a tough loss because our kids did come back and play really hard,” Stephens said. “It's hard for the players, it's hard for the coaches, it's hard for everybody. It's tough, because we have the most talent in the state, and we will be watching the championship game from home.”
Copiah-Lincoln will now travel to play Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College for the state championship on Saturday.
“They are not a flashy team,” Co-Lin head coach Glenn Davis said of his team. “They are just a hard-working, blue-collar bunch, and I would not trade them for anyone.”